Every Child Left Behind: Teaching “Stupid” Faith

Catholic children as young as 10 years old are renouncing God and quitting Church, claims a new study by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA) at Georgetown.  According to lead researcher, Dr. Mark Gray, children are finding that faith is “incompatible” with what they are learning in school, and the older the child becomes, the more this is the case.  According to Gray, “this is a generation that is struggling with faith in ways that we haven’t seen in previous generations.”

This is disturbing news for faithful parents. Our children are being besieged with the message that atheism is “smart” and faith is “dumb.” But there is a more provocative challenge presented to Catholics by this dilemma. Namely; how long will we keep teaching our kids to have a stupid faith?

“Stupid” Faith?

By “stupid” faith I mean one that doesn’t make experiential sense. Faith is only “stupid”—and, therefore, susceptible to allegedly “smart” atheism—when a person has not experienced Jesus Christ in a real and personal way. An experience of Christ is even more essential than good catechesis. Why? Because if I have experienced Christ personally, I know he exists.  If Stephen Hawking wrote a book denying the existence of my mother, I wouldn’t have to be an expert in quantum physics to know that he was writing nonsense.

Of course, intellectual formation in the form of good catechesis is also critical.  The second component of a “stupid” faith is the inability to explain why we believe what we do.  Sadly, many Catholic kids are afflicted with this malady as well, but this is actually of secondary importance to experiential encounter with the person of Christ. If I have a Ph.D. in theology, but haven’t experienced God’s love personally, my faith is a house built on sand. Essentially, the only reason atheism seems so “smart” to today’s youth is that while most Catholic kids are sacramentalized, and some are even adequately catechized, very few are actually evangelized.  That job falls squarely on mom and dad.  The Church will baptize our kids, and Catholic schools may catechize them, but parents are best equipped to bring their children to a meaningful, personal encounter with Jesus Christ.

Every Child Left Behind

Because of this, the Church tells us families are the first “schools of faith.” Unfortunately, the vast majority of these Catholic “schools” are getting a failing grade. A separate study, also conducted by CARA, found that only 17% of Catholic families pray together and only 13% say Grace at Meals together. This research sadly shows that most Catholic families are not living their faith in any demonstrable way at home.  If 83% of kids came out of school unable to read we would, rightly, be up in arms. Well, 83% of Catholic kids are “graduating” as spiritual illiterates from their family schools of faith. What are we going to do about it?

What Happened?

Our post-Christian culture has not caused this problem.  It simply shined a light on it.  It used to be that Catholic parents who did a poor job evangelizing their children could at least count on the culture to nudge their kids back to Church.  Maybe they wouldn’t be “Christian heroes” (as Cardinal Marx recently put it) but at least they would go through the motions and, in time, maybe they’d catch a deeper faith by marinating in the smells and bells.  This approach—which never worked well—is now hopelessly doomed.  The prevailing culture now sneers at churchgoing.  More and more, you will have to choose to go to Church—not because anyone will be disappointed if you don’t—but because you care deeply about the person you’re going to encounter when you get there (i.e., Jesus Christ in the Eucharist) or you won’t go at all.

Today, it falls more and more to parents to give their children a personal and meaningful experience of the love of God—not by simply dragging them to Mass and enrolling them in religious education–but by giving kids tangible evidence of God’s love in family life through meaningful family prayer, strong family rituals (e.g., specific times to work, play, talk, and pray together), casual but meaningful discussions about how God is impacting the family’s life, and an cultivating an intimacy within the home  rooted in each family member trying to love each other as God loves them.

A Call To Action

This latest CARA study is not a chance to impotently cluck about the godless culture.  It is a reminder to Catholic parents—and the whole Church–that if we want to raise faithful kids, we need to help our kids encounter Christ as the most important member of our families and the source of the warmth in our homes.

Dr. Gregory Popcak


Dr. Gregory Popcak is the Executive Director of the Pastoral Solutions Institute, an organization dedicated to helping Catholics find faith-filled solutions to tough marriage, family, and personal problems.

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  • nancyveronica

    “An experience of Christ is even more essential than good catechesis. Why? Because if I have experienced Christ personally, I know he exists”

    …and that is what happens to all of us, all along our lives, though sometimes we don’t realize it until we are 57 years old! But at the moment you realize it, nothing stays the same. So as the graces of God are given to us, our families and others, it really is up to us to illumine these moments, these gifts, these sorrows – as an experience with Christ!
    Great article. Thank you.

  • John00

    The unfortunate thing is that many within the hierarchy of the Church now believe in “stupid faith.” It is much easier to go along with the crowd than to stand up[ and say no to the illogical beliefs being perpetuated not only within schools, but in the “entertainment” media which is so prevalent today.

  • Matamoros

    Women in rebellion against the Church and their husbands are a prime problem in this. They cannot catechize their children properly when they refuse to believe and submit to the Faith.

    Having said that, fathers should be strong in the faith, irregardless of women, take his children to Mass, pray the rosary, say the blessing of food, and generally behave as a Catholic.

    This role model will largely overcome women’s rebellion as the children will come to see the rebellion, and the strength of their father in the Faith, and elect to be good Catholics. Studies have shown that it is the father’s faith, not the mother’s, which determines whether a child will remain in the Faith as a practicing Catholic.

  • Bernadette

    Evangelizing in the home is important, but parents can only do so much. Each person and situation is unique. I am in a family that has one Catholic parent and one agnostic parent. One child went to Catholic school for nine years and walked away from church. The other child goes to a public school and has a far better feeling about the Catholic church. I spent a lot of time talking to both children about the Catholic religion. One is very receptive the other was not. I am sure St Monica did the best she could too.

  • john654


  • Fr.ByronWoolcock,TDC

    Great and timely article Dr. Gregory. A deep encounter with Christ in the fellowship of His
    Mystical Body the Church is indeed the foundation. Keep up the good work. Prayers and
    Blessings to you and all who prayerfully read your article. Fr.Byron,TDC.

  • QuoVadisAnima

    I find your assessment more startling than anything. It calls to mind Adam’s finger pointing at Eve in Genesis when God called him to account for his own responsibilities.

    I’ve yet to attend a parish where the men at daily Mass outnumber the women (or even come close to it). Most of the Catholic women I know are mourning husbands & fathers who are content to abdicate their responsibilities & leave all it all on their wives’ shoulders.

  • QuoVadisAnima

    Sadly, research has demonstrated that a father’s faith example generally has a larger impact on his children than a mother’s. Don’t despair, though, God gave us the example of St Monica to remind us moms that all things are possible with Him – keep praying!

    Take heart – In addition to many rosaries & other prayers, my mother offered a Eucharistic novena for each of her children, & I believe that was instrumental in bringing me from my own agnosticism back to the faith after more than a decade away.

  • prolifemama

    Bless you and your children, and your efforts, dear Bernadette. Our family is in a similar situation, and as my husband and I weren’t properly catechized in the 60s/70s, we hadn’t a clue what to teach our 5, nor how.

    I pray daily to their patron saints, to our deceased parents to keep watch over their grandkids, and to my guardian angel to put his hand over my mouth when I’m about to say something that is nowhere near helpful to the kids’ spiritual growth.

    God can use parents’ “offer it up” denials of self to open our childrens’ eyes and hearts to Himself. St. Monica is a wonderful companion for parents, and her once-wayward son, too! They understand.

    I’ll hold you and your family in prayer. Please if you would do the same, much appreciation!

  • Bernadette

    Thank you for the kind words and prayers. It has been a long struggle and left me in a state of depression. It didn’t help to sit in church and listen to homilies about parents lacking abilities if our children strayed from the church. That I will be judged before God and will have to pay for my failure. I did miss a few masses after these homilies started to become frequent theme. I didn’t like sitting in my pew trying not to cry. I would leave mass more miserable then when I arrived.

    I continued my daily rosary and placed it all in God’s hands. My church did their usual priest shuffle and the homilies changed. I had the opportunity to visit other Catholic churches and talk to other parents. These were people that I would not have ordinarily met. So, I know that was the hand of God. I feel closer to Mary and keep that in mind every time I am overwhelmed.

    I am amazed at how at my lowest point or most confused and I call on God, Jesus or Mary for help, a Catholic book, prayer or blogger will appear in my email and provide something wonderful and needed.

    An example would be the wonderful responses and prayers to my comments. Thank you so much!

  • Gus

    Both your viewpoint and Matamoros’ viewpoint are probably correct. Men and women, moms and dads, and even the Church itself have to share the blame for the situation we are in today. As Dr. Popcak states, experiencing “Jesus Christ in a real and personal way” is essential but “intellectual formation in the form of good catechesis is also critical.” Neither parents nor the Church have been doing a very good job of catechesis for that last 50 years and, as a result, secular moral relativism, individualism, and scientism have all taken over our culture.

  • Matamoros

    Poor dear. Facts hurt some times, you know.

    You bring up an important point though. God punished Adam, “because you listened to your wife…” Men are in charge by divine right, and are punished if they let their wives deceive or direct them.

    The number of people at mass is misdirection. All SJWs seek to misdirect from the point at hand. At our parish men outnumber women. Women wear skirts or dresses, and many wear veils. The priest is manly, and isn’t afraid to speak of man’s role as head of the domestic church and family.

  • prolifemama

    Yes, Bernadette – good for you, recognizing God’s help in the words of His faithful! Good for your heart and mind that you feel Mary’s closeness. Can we think she must have tempted to give into unbelievable sorrow, watching her Son’s suffering and knowing it must be so, as it would set all the world, for all time, free from sin?

    It helps me to remember that many of our most glorious saints were the most despicable of sinners, before denouncing their sinfulness and turning to Christ.

    Bernadette, Satan visits me often and whispers into my heart’s ear that I could have done SO MUCH BETTER with our children, been more patient, kinder, more attentive, not afraid of teaching them about Jesus (I was actually embarrassed, even when they were little, to mention his name outside of the prayers we taught them, and I now realize this was the Prince of Darkness’ attempt to undermine my faith and my commitment to raise our children in the faith). Thoughts of that kind lead to despair, self-loathing, and inaction, and most especially neglect of prayers.

    Don’t listen to it. Instead, hold each of your children up to Mary, place them into Her lap. Climb into it yourself too, and your husband, and know you will soon be soothed, your children and your husband and yourself beginning to heal, and Satan will quickly flee your home, because its loving peace will burn him.

    Our pastor has recommended that those of us whose children’s catechization is not yet complete, enthrone the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the Immaculate Heart of Mary in our homes. We don’t even have to tell the kids, especially the more wayward and stubborn ones, what we have done, nor why, though it would be wonderful if the whole family could be present for the Enthronement – grandparents too! Families who have done this see miracles happen in the hearts and minds of their kids. My husband and I plan to do so in just a few weeks.

    And Bernadette, dear wife and mother, and sister to me, I chose the saint whose namesake you are, as my confirmation Patroness, and received a bodily healing through her hands from Our Blessed Mother.

    Miracles happen. Praise be to our most loving Father! Praise be to our loving and Blessed Lord and His precious loving Mother, and ours!!!

    You and your family will remain in my prayers.

  • prolifemama

    My siblings and I were blessed with both parents’ prayer lives witnessed by us daily, and all day long, throughout their lives.

    God bless you, and welcome Home!